Friday, July 29, 2011

Kefir Disaster but Blukeberry Redemption

I'm really enjoying this whole dairy kefir gig.

I've been straining it and it tastes somewhere between sour cream and Greek yogurt: yum! I haven't strained it long enough to make cheese, but that will be next. I can't wait to try kefir ice cream.

I ran out of milk, though, and thought I'd try the grains in cream.

The only cream I have (and the only cream they sell around here) is ultra pasteurized. The kefir experts say "never use ultra pasteurized dairy," and I thought they were just being snobs.

Uuum... no, they're definitely not. The cream smells gross and it never thickened, either. Lesson learned!

At least my blukeberry (blue/blackberry mix) bars turned out...

So all is not lost.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Better than Raisins: Dehydrated Cherries

What color would you say these beauties are? They look plum to me.

But how can a cherry be plum?

These are Bing cherries, left on the tree about three weeks too long.

Tree over-ripened fruit is one of the sweetest concentrations of sugar on this planet. So yes, taking a bite of one of these is, as my dad says, "pure sugar."

Meet my new best friend:

Hello new best friend.

My brother gave this jewel to me for Christmas and I've been anxiously awaiting cherry season ever since. (They're available with a clamp or a suction base.)

It makes really quick work of the twenty pounds of cherries (picked by my darling of a husband) I'm dehydrating, freezing, and making into cherry butter.

These cherries are slated for dehydration. It takes me about 15-17 hours to dry a whole cherry... halved cherries go much quicker but I like them whole. When finished, they will be great for straight snacking, mixing into granola, trail mix, muffins, scones, and pretty much any recipe (cookie or otherwise) that calls for raisins.

And the juice that drips off of these sugar bombs makes about the best iced tea or lemonade mix-in you've ever had.

I love Summer.

This post is linked to: Simple Lives Thursday and Real Food Wednesday

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sour Cream Lemon Blueberry Scones

Things have been a little down around here, lately. It's high time I shared something wonderful with you, dear readers.

At the moment, I can think of few things more wonderful than the plump orbs of juicy Summer chilling in my refrigerator. BLUEBERRIES. 10 pounds. And I intend to buy another 10 pounds if they're still available.

What, pray tell, does one do with 20 pounds of fresh-picked rotund indigo nuggets bursting in your mouth with an explosion of sweet tartness?

Well, after popping so many right out of the box that I look like this...

I'm freezing some, making blueberry butter, blueberry jam, blueberry crumb bars, blueberry liqueur, blueberry breakfast bars, and my newest favorite:

Lemon Blueberry Scones.

These babies are massive. I think the recipe actually makes two batches, but I didn't know that so I made 8 mondo scones.

I made blueberry orange scones last year and was quite disappointed that they turned out like biscuits... flaky and cohesive. I like the kind of scones that hold together well enough to butter, but ultimately crumble in my coffee and taste like crunchy cake.


It's not a very fussy recipe and came together from start to finish in about 35 minutes (prep time of about 5).

Please make these.

Your tastebuds will thank you. Your husband will thank you. Your nephew will thank you. Well... mine did, anyway.

Sour Cream Lemon Blueberry Scones
Recipe adapted from my cousin
Printer Friendly Version

1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups all-purpose flour (unbleached is nice)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
1 egg
1/4 cup cream
2 cups blueberries (approximately -- I didn't measure)
lemon (juice from one lemon, and/or zest from a lemon, or 1/2-1 tsp. lemon extract... I used the extract, 'cause it's what I had)

Preheat oven to 370°F.

In a small bowl, mix sour cream and baking soda.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt. Cut in butter (I literally cut the butter by putting it onto a cutting board and chopping it... but you can use a pastry blender, a fork, a food processor, a penny whistle, or any method you normally use to cut in butter).

Add sour cream mixture, 1 egg, and 1/4 cup of cream and lemon (juice, zest, or extract) to the dry ingredients.

Mix with a wooden spoon just to combine. Add in blueberries and knead lightly (in the bowl) just until it forms a cohesive mass with well-dispersed berries. (Note: it won't be pretty, it's a very shaggy dough, but that's what makes them nice and crumbly. DON'T OVERKNEAD, the less you handle the dough the better the end result).

Choose your adventure:

A) Divide the dough into two portions and make each into round discs. Freeze 1 disc to use later and cut the remaining one into 8 pieces (like you would cut a pizza or a pie). Put on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 20-25 minutes.

B) Form the dough into a large round disc. Cut it into 8 pieces (like you would a pizza or a pie), put the mondo scones onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for 27-35 minutes, or until golden brown and the middles look cooked.

I think I need to invest in blueberry stock.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Strange Reaction to Zucchini

*Caution... semi-grody pictures of my cracked/peeling hand are at the bottom of this post. I'm not sharing these to gross people out, but to help people who have this reaction and are worried. If you're squeamish, come back tomorrow.*

Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables.

Among its other likeable qualities is its versatility. I mean, mix in a little Old Bay Seasoning to shredded zucchini and you've got mock crab cakes. Bake it in a crust with some cinnamon and sugar and you've got mock apple pie. Peel it with a citrus peeler into long strands and you've got zucchini spaghetti noodles. Mix it up with a batter and you've got chocolate zucchini cake, zucchini bread, or zucchini cookies. It can be served grilled, fried, sauteed, baked, roasted, and raw.

Oh, the possibilities of the humble zucchini!

But there's one thing about zucchini that I really don't like.

Cue "Hey There Delilah" music while I croon out, ♫♪ "Ooooh, it's what you do to meeeeee, oh ooooh, what you do to me, what you do to meee..... oooh ooooooohh ooooooh oooooooooooh...." ♫♪

What does it do to me?

Well, when I touch raw zucchini juice, it makes my hand feel really tight -- like I'm going to burst out of my skin. And then I do. Lasting several hours, the outer layer of skin cracks and peels away. It doesn't exactly hurt, it just feels very... well... strange. Lotion helps a bit, but water makes it much worse, which is counter-intuitive because it feels like there's a filmy coat of something that just needs to be washed away. While under the water or with soap it feels great, but as soon as it dries it's much worse than before. Time is the best remedy, I think (though some say cortisone cream helps).

Anyway, it's called contact dermatitis, and apparently the whole squash family can cause it, with butternut squash being another main offender.

Cooked? No problem. Reaction to eating (even raw)? None. The reaction is caused by the layer right under the skin of the squash.

So... um... maybe shredding a gallon of zucchini this weekend and freezing three gallons of breaded zucchini spears without wearing gloves wasn't such a great idea.

But to preserve the zucchini harvest deep into the winter? To have fresh zucchini bread in February?  To be able to pull breaded zucchini out of the freezer and into the fryer on a busy weekday night? Just for a few hours of discomfort?

Totally worth it.

Plus, I got out of doing dishes for an evening.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Updated! Talking about Infertility: 1 More Thing NOT to Say

I'm quite overwhelmed by the reception of Wednesday's post on speaking about infertility. It has garnered quite a bit more attention than I could have imagined, and I'm really grateful so many of you have Tweeted, Shared, and otherwise spread it to your friends. Your thoughtful comments, your genuine sympathy, encouragement, and most especially your outpouring of love and prayers is humbling and beautiful. Thank you so much!

As I suspected it would, the post has also (amongst comments that were deleted before being posted) brought in a whole new wave of "have you tried?"s. This comes with the territory of exposing your heart and your ideas for public consumption, of course, and I'm not looking for sympathy on that matter. It did, however, bring up one more point that I did not originally mention in Wednesday's post, but that I think is extremely important because it is so extremely common in this discussion.

I can't believe I omitted it on Wednesday, because this is probably the single most common (and most personally devastating) comment of them all!

It's been added and labeled #3 on the original post.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

He Made My Day

Never underestimate the power of a little love note left on the counter to transform an entire day into something beautiful.

I think my face might have frozen in this grin.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Talking about Infertility: 7 Things NOT to Say

I wrote several months ago that I’m in a good place right now with our inability to conceive children. I’m perfectly happy and content as a wife and have no depression, anger, discouragement, or “why me?” syndrome going on. Seriously, should we ever be blessed with children, yay! I do pray for the grace of children; I would love to be a mother. But if not, then that’s totally okay, too.

Despite the fact I’m not angsty and upset about it anymore, I do continue to receive frequent advice, comments, and questions from well-meaning people who are more upset about my infertility than I am. They’re upset that I’m not upset, and by golly they want to fix me.

For the most part, I can brush off the barbs, but the awkwardness is harder to get around.

I do not share the following thoughts as a tirade against well-meaning busybodies. But I don’t think those without infertility issues are aware of the effects of their comments, and I don’t think most people know precisely what to say (or not to say) to a young bride who possibly can’t have children.

From my experiences over the last few years, here are the most hurtful and unhelpful things to say to a woman who is bearing the cross of infertility:

1. Advice of any kind
Giving unwarranted advice on any matter is not a good idea. Infertility is no different.

Did the woman ask you for advice?
I have never asked anyone other than my husband, doctors and Creighton practitioner for advice about infertility, and yet many people feel it necessary to contribute their two cents. This is the most intimate and personal of all subjects, please refrain from giving unrequested advice.

Do you regularly discuss a woman's ovaries, cycles, fertility signs, and methods of intercourse?
Do you have no shame? Even if I didn’t struggle with infertility, I would never wish to discuss these topics. Ever. Never. My inability to conceive shouldn’t make these topics fair game for coffee conversation. Please have a little modesty.

2. Advice Disguised in the form of the Question:
What you say: “Have you tried...?”
What I hear: "Run for the hills!! Awkward and possibly x-rated question about to ensue!"

Very closely related to the advice of any kind, but much more pernicious, is posing advice in the form of the question: "Have you tried...?"

Originally, for the purpose of sharing exactly how tactless, crass, and downright lewd people can be when speaking to women struggling with infertility, I intended to share a sampling of the “friendly advice” I’ve been given prefaced by “Have you tried?”

Upon second thought, however, it would be worthless to expose the comments except for their shock value. Truly, you would not believe some of it. Suffice it to say I’ve been asked, by very well-meaning but misguided people, if my husband and I have ever tried all sorts of various maneuvers I blush to think of.

Am I supposed to or even allowed to answer "yes"? Do you really want to know the answers? Am I supposed to answer at all? Can I just pretend you didn't ask me those questions?

3. "I just heard about.... (fill in the blank)... and immediately thought of you."

It's a nuanced hybrid of the "Have you tried?" and the unwanted advice with an additional humiliation.

"I just heard about this (doctor, method, theory, pill, shot, cream, herb, hormone, supplement, gel, suppository), and immediately thought of you."

Imagine yourself in this situation: someone comes up to you in a public place, rests a hand tenderly on your arm, looks deeply into your eyes, is positively bursting with excitement, and says with the most eager anticipation possible, "I just heard from one of my friends who read an article in a magazine about your condition. There's this gel cap suppository for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the second I heard about it, I thought right of you!"

Really? Does that instantly conjure up my image in your mind?

It's humiliating to know that there are a large number of people who, whenever they see a progesterone cream, instantly think of me. What's worse is that they tell me about it over the holy water font after Mass.

Please know that, as infertility effects me so personally and deeply, I have done exhaustive research on this subject. I know you just heard about this (fill in the blank), I'm grateful that you want to help, but I've eaten, slept and breathed this topic for years. If I haven't heard about it (which hasn't yet been the case), I trust my doctor has and I'll discuss it with him soon. But please... next time you see a daisy, think of me.

4. Religious Consolation
What you say: “It'll happen in God's time.”
What I hear: "You don't trust God." "You're not patient enough." "I have insider knowledge that He will eventually give you children."

This statement shouldn’t  be taken harshly, because the person who says it is almost always a well-meaning little old lady. But it can be very hard to hear, for while intended to be consoling, it’s actually quite loaded. It assumes:

- that you know what God will or will not do for me (He WILL grant you children, just not right now)
- that I'm not accepting His will for me right now
- that I'm not being patient because I dare to desire children now instead of waiting passively

We will die in God’s time. It will rain in God’s time. Everything happens in God’s time. You’re actually stating the obvious and it’s not really relevant to the conversation. It gives hope for something that may never happen, and berates the woman in the meantime. Far from being helpful and consoling, this statement used to rile my feathers more than most of the others. Now I just smile and nod.

5. Affirming the Gift of Life While Insinuating…?
What you say: "Being infertile must really make you understand that children are a gift, hm?"
What I hear: "Kids are a gift and you ain't got ‘em."

This is actually a new one, and yet I’ve heard it more than a few times in recent months. Well, yes, I am in a unique position to understand that reality more than most people. And… so… you've been given several gifts and I've got none... what's your point? How exactly would you like me to respond?

6. The Creighton Cure-All
What you say: “You should try NaPro Technology!”
What I hear: “You’ve been living under a rock for the last decade. Let me be the first to tell  you about this new wonder method that can fix absolutely anything and is 100% Church approved.”

Yes, there are probably some Catholics who have never heard of Dr. Hilgers, the Pope Paul VI Institute, the Creighton Model System, or NaPro Technology. These are the same Catholics who couldn’t tell you the name of the current pope, what time Mass is this Sunday, or who painted the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Of course I’ve heard of it, and not that it’s really any of your business, but yes of course I’m using it.

I truly have a great deal of respect for Dr. Hilgers, the Pope Paul VI Institute, and all of the work that they’re doing. Dr. Hilgers boasts a much greater-than-average success rate and has helped thousands of couples with a wide range of gynecological issues. NaPro Technology is not, however, a wonder cure or the panacea it is so often lauded to be.

I think too often people place far too much hope onto a method, a man, or a medicine. Success rates of 70% still mean 30% can’t be helped. And for those who fall in the 30% category, hearing people who have never had fertility issues (or even from those who have) lauding, hailing, praising and placing implicit faith in the system as “no, it will help you,” is a little hard to bear.

My Experience with the Not-So-Radically-Different Approach of NaPro Technology

I can also say that most people who promote NaPro Technology (especially for infertility) have NO idea what it actually entails.

My devout Catholic, Dr. Hilgers trained, certified Creighton NFP only NaPro technology doctor suggested, as a first round treatment, using birth control pills and fertility drugs. She also recommended my husband to undergo a male fertility test by morally illicit means. Uum… how is that any different from what my secular OB/GYN recommended? I left that appointment so confused, upset, and dismayed that I almost completely threw in the towel on Creighton.

Thankfully we found another Creighton doctor (a few hours away) who uses bioidentical hormone therapies that do not include birth control pills, but he (and Dr. Hilgers) still prescribes fertility drugs. Fertility drugs are not morally problematic at all, but they’re also not any different than what a non-Creighton doctor would do. So in my case of infertility (and there are many different causes of infertility, so this doesn't apply across the board) NaPro technology doesn’t have some hidden bag of tricks unavailable to other doctors, though it’s always publicized and hailed as being radically different. The main difference in my case, as far as I can see, is that Creighton doctors will never push or recommend IVF. And that really is a boon, to be sure.

NaPro Technology might also have a different bag of tricks for other gynecological problems, so I’m not trying to discount it wholesale! I just want to temper the rampant enthusiasm and undying faith that so many people place in this system.

7. Everyone’s Perfect Solution
What you say: “Why don’t you just adopt?”
What I hear: dagger plunge, twist, thrust, rip heart out, leave her there to bleed to death

“Why don’t you just adopt?” Oh, that the answer to all of life’s most crushing pains could be so easily answered by such a simple solution.

“It’s never going to happen for you. Why don’t you just give up all of this nonsense of conceiving a child in the life-giving love of your marriage, growing bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh within your womb for nine months, sacrificing your body while giving birth, nourishing your child with her mother’s milk, bearing a child with your husband’s radiant eyes and sheepish smile… you’ll still have a kid and will be helping someone else out, too!”

Adoption is a calling, it’s not a fallback plan when all other methods fail. You don’t tell a woman in her mid thirties who hasn’t found a spouse yet, “Why don’t you just become a nun? Clearly you’ll never find a man so why don’t you just give up, give of yourself and go don the veil?”

Of course it’s a worthy call! Of course it’s a good thing to do! But you can’t guilt a noble calling upon someone because the desire of her heart isn’t happening.

Adoption doesn’t cure infertility, it eliminates childlessness. Something very real… entirely integral to what it means to be a woman, the primary purpose of her marriage, the centrality of her very being, is lost by the inability to conceive and bear children, to procreate. You can’t just plop a baby on her lap and expect everything to be all better.

And you know what? Maybe we do want to adopt. Maybe it is our calling. But your question requires a response I may just not want to give you.

The question proposes a quick and easy solution for a process that is far from quick and easy. The question assumes we can handle wait lists (especially for infants) that could last several years. The question assumes we are prepared for an adoption that can fall through at the last second, causing unspeakable emotional agony. The question assumes we have a separate bedroom in our house and a stable enough income to pass the home study. The question assumes we have the $30,000+ required to adopt. Let me open my house, my bank statements, and my heart to you to answer your “simple solution” question.

Adoption isn’t as easy as going to the local group home, picking up a cheery cherub and taking her home. That’s what your question makes it sound like. Please, don’t think a) your simple solution hasn’t occurred to us, or b) your simple solution is, in fact, so simple.

So What DO You Say?

Must you say anything at all? Tragic as its malfunctioning is, I don’t really see how my reproductive system should ever be our topic of conversation. But I assure you, if I ever do need to talk about it, I’ll broach the subject with you, my dear friend… my sister… my mother… not you, a casual acquaintance in a chance meeting.

No, I feel the need to say something. Alright, if you must say something, then please let it be a simple but empathetic:

“I’m praying for you,”

especially if you actually are. I would never turn down a prayer! I truly appreciate them. I cherish them. I live on them.


Comments are open for now. If I start receiving advice, suggestions, corrections, or any other unwanted feedback, I’ll have to close them ;). Thanks!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Easy As Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Making this pie was a minor milestone in my life. It was the first time I've made a fruit pie, and it was the first time I've ever cooked with or eaten rhubarb (generously gifted by my neighbor).

I think I love rhubarb now, but only with vanilla ice cream. It's very tart. The strawberries and sugar balance the tartness really well in this recipe, but I still think the pucker factor would be high without the healing balm of ice cream.

Take a look at that, ladies and gents.

A pan underneath the pie plate in the oven is a good idea.

Served with a hearty scoop of vanilla ice cream, this pie screams "SUMMER!!"

And my husband screamed "YUM!"

Scratch "fruit pie" and "use rhubarb" off my bucket list!

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Printable Recipe

For the pie crust:
Yield: 1 9-inch pie crust (Make 1 1/2 times the recipe to put stars on the top.)

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp. very cold water

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
7 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups lightly packed fresh rhubarb, diced
3 to 3 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 tbsp butter
Coarse white sparkling sugar, to garnish, if desired
Directions for the crust:

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix briefly to blend.  Add in the butter pieces and mix on medium-low speed to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse sand and the largest butter pieces are not much bigger than peas.  Mix in the cold water on low speed just until the dough comes together.

Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  (This dough can be frozen for up to 2 months.)  Remove from the refrigerator.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Use as directed in your desired pie recipe.

To make the filling and put the pie together:
Whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt.

In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb and strawberries with the sugar mixture. Spoon the fruit into the pan, filling it about 3/4 full and mounding the filling a bit in the center.  Place dabs of the butter atop the filling. Return the pie to the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Roll out the remaining dough from the refrigerator, and cut it into star shapes.  Place the stars atop the filling. Brush with water and sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired.

Bake the pie for 30 minutes then reduce the oven heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 35 to 40 minutes (note: the middle didn't look done to me, so I baked it an addition 20 minutes -- use your own judgment here), until the filling is bubbling and the crust nicely browned.  If you have a stainless steel crust cover, place it on top of the crust after 20 minutes to prevent the crust from browning too much.

Remove the pie(s) from the oven, and let them cool for an hour or so before serving.

The pie may be served warm, but it’ll be a bit messy; it sets as it cools. Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Recipe seen on and adapted from Smells Like Home

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Musings

Right now... it is 11:49 and I have a Holy Hour in 11 minutes. Better make this quick!

This weekend... my nephew was baptized! It was probably the most beautiful Baptism I've ever had the privilege to attend. The priest used the extended form of the Rite, which I've never experienced before. It required lots of processions, readings, blessings, and ritual that is always skipped during the shortened form. Should we ever be blessed with children to have baptized, I definitely want to use the long form!

Some plans for the week:  Return some clothes I bought two months ago (and have meant to return ever since). Mercifully, they're too big.

I need to pick cherries and send them to my family! I keep waiting for them to reach ultimate ripeness (for the most sugar possible) but at some point it's going to be too late. While I'm at it, I should pick a ton for us and pit and freeze or dehydrate them. I'm not much for canned cherries -- they taste too much like cough syrup to me.

I also want to try my hand at sprouting some radish or broccoli seed (for salads).

If I can find some time for myself, I would like to... start reading and analyzing some of the classics, again. Don Quixote, perhaps?

I am grateful for... my sisters-in-law. They're a fun bunch!

Some prayer intentions for this week: in thanksgiving for a successful cherry harvest.

Something that makes me smile: spending Sunday with my husband. We're a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the LA Time Crossword Puzzle.

Monday Musings are hosted by Nadja.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gone to Pot

I had a glorious conversation with my mother earlier this week, though that's not saying much, because conversations with her are always glorious. Of our many topics of conversation, however, was the prospect of growing trees in pots.

Lemon, lime, orange, and kumquat trees, to be precise.

One of our dear family friends does it quite successfully on her back porch. She brings them in during the Winter, I think, but her portable orchard produces citrus abundantly.

Can you imagine!?

To the root cellar, summer kitchen, white picket fence garden, dairy barn, and pig wallow, you can now add "screened in back porch" to my list of "requirements" for the dream house.

It is, after all, a dream house.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Green Bean Bumper Crop

I have a lot of them.

A lot of them.

I planted lots and have now frozen about as much as we can eat (and I have room for) until next year.

I do plan on giving quite a few away, but I'd like to try some new methods of eating and/or preserving them.

Any ideas? Recipes?

I definitely want to try this and will let y'all know in a few weeks how it goes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Obscure Saint of the Day

Today is the Feast Day of one of my confirmation saints. I was a greedy teen and took two.

When I was younger, I was rather fond of obscure saints. I figured nobody was tapping them up for intercession and so I'd be much more likely to have my prayers heard by them than if I went to an overbooked saint like St. Therese, St. Francis, or St. Joseph.

Yes, it was a juvenile understanding of the Church Triumphant, but I learned a great bit about a great many otherwise forgotten saints. And they were, and still are, quite generous intercessors (besides the few I deemed rightfully obscure when they ignored my fervent requests).

Anyway, I saw a 7 1/2 hour movie (with subtitles) of St. Teresa of the Andes and was immediately smitten. In hindsight, the movie isn't quite as great as I thought it was at the time, but it made quite an impression on me and I fell in love with her.

Shortly thereafter a kind Aunt sent me a book about her which arrived, coincidentally, on the good saint's feast day. After watching the movie, reading that book, and another book about her, I knew she was going to be my Confirmation patron.

She was young (died at age 19), was a contemporary (died in 1920), was a Carmelite (my favorite spirituality), she was also a glutton for multiple names (her Baptism name was Juana Enriqueta Josefina of the Sacred Hearts Fernandez Solar though she was usually called "Juanita") and she was obscure. Score!

Even though she's not on the American calendar, I still encourage you to learn more about her and celebrate her feast today, July 13th.

St. Teresa of the Andes, pray for us!

Who is your Confirmation saint, and why did you choose him/her?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Finding My Decorating Style

When I moved into this little rental house after our honeymoon, I wanted to make it comfortable... but not too comfortable. We were only supposed to be here a year, you see. It was our "temporary home," before we bought a "real house." I didn't want to get too attached to it, so I didn't want to make it too cozy.

Well, years have passed, and it doesn't look like we're moving anytime soon. The time has come to make it feel really comfortable, because, by golly, it's our home!

But I've never really decorated before. I mean, my dorm room at college had some nice artwork cut out of a book and sticky-tacked to the wall, but I could hardly pull that off here.

I don't know what my style is. Simple, I think, but functionally elegant. I don't like clutter, or little breakable trinkets that need to be dusted and carefully guarded.

Painting, sconces, ironwork, artwork, candles, mirrors, wreaths, curtains, rugs, pillows, topiaries, furniture... I'm not quite sure where to start.

For now I think I'll start by straightening the picture on the wall.

What's your style?

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Their Best Behavior

Our 24 laying hens, the notorious egg eaters, are enjoying their last Summer days. Due to their insatiable appetite for their own eggs, I ordered a new batch of bad-habit-free chicks and in a couple of months will send the naughty cannibals to our freezer.

No doubt attempting to foil our plans once again, lately they've been averaging 22-23 eggs a day!

The average production when I purchased the new chicks was 7-8 a day.


Maybe we should stay the execution. But then what would we do with 50 hens?

Any ideas?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Banana Bread Deluxe

A few weeks ago I saw some discounted ripe bananas at the grocery and I knew they were destined for greatness. In front of the overripe banana display, I had a vision of creamy loveliness, enrobed in hot fudge sauce, draped with sticky caramel, fluffed with whipped cream and crowned with a fresh cherry. These bananas, on their last leg, were elected on the spot for Roasted Banana Ice Cream.

Alas. Cherry harvest came. Payroll came. I had to wash my hair. I had to rearrange my sock drawer. I had to do anything and everything besides make ice cream. And then, this morning, underneath the pitch-black bananas, there was an oozing puddle of banana juice. Something had to be done, and quick.

I'm sorry, but once an overripe banana has been chosen for something as exalted as Roasted Banana Ice Cream, I can't doom it to ordinary banana bread. So I scanned the blogosphere for a new and exciting recipe.

As usual, Annie's Eats came through with another Cook's Illustrated recipe.

The case for perfection:

Exhibit A: Caramelized banana slices framing the sides.

Exhibit B: Domed perfection and tender crumb in the moist interior.

Exhibit C: Butter's perfect companion.

Slathered dripping melting soaking butter.

Just the facts, Ma'am.

Yes, right.

Exhibit D: Crispy sugared crust, counterbalancing the rest of the chewy slice.

But the taste? The taste?

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it tastes like...

...banana bread.

It's much more beautiful, much more intensely banana-y, and has a much nicer texture than "ordinary" banana bread, so I've entitled it "Banana Bread Deluxe." At the end of the day, however, it's still banana bread.

This is the version I'll use for company because it does have an extra "oomph" that my usual recipe is missing. But while the two extra steps involved in this recipe kick it up a flavor notch, they also add a half hour or so worth of work (and a few extra dishes) to a normally "quick and easy" recipe. Perfect for company, frivolous for weekday breakfasts.

But ain't it purty?

Banana Bread Deluxe
Cook’s Illustrated, July & August 2010 via Annie's Eats

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
6 large, very ripe bananas (about 2¼ lbs.), peeled
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Lightly spray a loaf pan (about 9 x 5 inches) with cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt; whisk together and set aside.

Place 5 bananas in a microwave safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and make several slits in the wrap to act as steam vents.  Microwave on high until the bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the bananas to a fine mesh strainer set over a medium bowl and let drain, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes (you should have ½-¾ cup liquid).

Transfer the reserved banana liquid to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook until reduced to about ¼ cup, 5-10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.  In a large bowl, combine the bananas and the reduced banana liquid.  Mash with a potato masher or whisk until fairly smooth.  Whisk in the melted butter, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the banana mixture.  Fold together gently, just until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula.

Slice the remaining banana diagonally into ¼-inch thick slices.  Layer the banana slices along both sides of the top of the batter, leaving a couple of inches in the center to allow an even rise.  Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the assembled loaf.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55-75 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool at least 15 minutes in the pan before removing.  Continue to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

True Blue

One of my dearest friends from college sent me an e-mail yesterday.

She's coming to visit!!

She's actually facing the lines, roughin' it through security, sitting in cramped quarters, living through this new era without complimentary peanuts, flying on an airplane and coming all the way up here just to see lil' ol' me!

Do you comprehend that? She's not passing through on her way to a grander destination. She's not using me for an overnight stay so she can get back on the road. She's not coming to sightsee in the area and using my home as a base.

No, her express purpose of spending money on a plane ticket is to visit!

I'm so happy, so pleased, so loved, and so edified by the very great blessing of a very great friend. Thank you, dearest Lord, for such a sublime gift.

Do you keep up with your college (or high school) friends? Stories, please!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Great Irony

Our bread and butter is, mostly, from cherries.

The most stressful week of our year is from cherries.

The preoccupying diversion for the majority of the year is, you guessed it, cherries.

I just went to the freezer to load my smoothie with cherries and... horror of horrors, not a single one!!

The Bing trees in the orchard were just harvested clean.

HOW COULD WE FORGET TO PICK CHERRIES FOR OURSELVES?? This is going to be a long cheerless cherry-less year.

At least my zucchini plants are prolific.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Farmer's Wife's Rite of Passage

 I don't like dirt.

I mean, I appreciate it. I know it's important. I know I wouldn't be alive without it. But I don't like it under my fingernails. At all. Ew.

So I can't explain what happened yesterday.

My pepper plants are floundering. They're almost the same size they were when I transplanted them two months ago. Suspecting a lack of water, I did the unthinkable.

I plunged two fingers right into the dirt. I felt around. I didn't even consider there might be creepy bugs down there. Fat slimy slugs didn't occur to me. I didn't notice the I'll-never-be-clean-again feeling of soil under my fingernails. I didn't run to the bathroom to scrub my hands.

My peppers were indeed dry.

And I can't help but feel, as a farmer's wife, I've finally arrived.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Think I Forgot to Mention...

Now that I think about it, I don't think I ever mentioned that we closed on those 5 acres we were thinking about buying.

Yes, we're landowners!

Honestly, we closed on May 25th and haven't been to the property since then... nor have we popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Cherry harvest (which just finished, successfully and beautifully) has been a little bit all-consuming.

But we have great plans for our little plot, and hopefully within the next several years it will morph into our dream homestead. For now I just want to plant a little grove of fig trees and hope they're nice and mature by the time we can build and move out there.

Oh, let the dreaming begin!